Recommendations for handling in-flight cardiac arrest emergencies were presented by the DGLRM (German Society for Aerospace Medicine) task force at the Euroanaesthesia 2017 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. 

While cardiac arrest accounts for only 0.3% of all in-flight medical emergencies, 86% of these events result in death, as evidenced by the recent passing of actress Carrie Fisher who suffered a cardiac arrest while travelling on a plane. Considering the high risk of fatality, the DGLRM task force was created to provide recommendations for dealing with this type of emergency, as guidelines for in-flight cardiac arrest management are currently unavailable. 

Specifically, the task force recommends the following:

  • Emergency equipment should be available and its location should be mentioned in the pre-flight safety announcement.
  • An electrocardiogram should be available for patients with cardiac arrest; automated external defibrillators (AED) have this function available and many planes now have an AED on board. This equipment should be available on all planes.
  • Crew should request help as soon as possible via onboard announcement after a patient with cardiac arrest is identified. The announcement should state the suspected cardiac arrest and the location of emergency equipment.
  • Two-person CPR is considered optimum and should be performed if possible; the crew should be trained regularly in basic life support, ideally with a focus on CPR in aircraft.
  • The plane should be diverted immediately if necessary.

Dr. Jochen Hinkelbein from the University of Cologne, Germany and President of the German Society for Aerospace Medicine said that he and his team will be contacting airlines directly and asking them to incorporate these recommendations into their emergency procedures.

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